Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The politics of Maori seats and Maori appointments

Some appear annoyed that Maori officials can vote on council committees without being elected by Aucklanders. Others are annoyed that the Government has refused to provide Maori seats in the Auckland supercity.

While the Auckland supercity legislation does not permit specific Maori seats in the Auckland City Council, it does permit unelected and advisory members of Maori statutory boards being able to vote on council committees – including having a casting vote. Two members from the nine-member board had been nominated for each of the majority of 20 council committees, and have advisory roles, notwithstanding the ability to have the casting vote, and thus be full decision makers.
However if a Maori representative did provide the casting vote, there is nothing to stop the full council overturning the decision.

Act Leader and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide said he would resign if the council had specific Maori seats. Perhaps he didn’t threaten to resign if there were appointed Maori who could enact a casting vote on council committees because he was aware that the Select Committee hearing the Super City legislation could well approve that decision, giving them “membership rights” – which Act voted for, while not agreeing with it.

It seems that not everyone realised that full membership rights also meant full voting rights.

But the Select Committee snubbed the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, who wanted two Auckland Councillors elected by voters on the Maori roll and another appointed by mana whenua - local Maori with ancestral ties to the land. This decision is why Maori were given a separate forum called the Maori Statutory Board, while retaining the one electoral roll instead of an additional Maori roll, like we have for general elections.

Maori seats normally have a rationale based on indigeneity. Decisions on appointing Maori voting rights are not made on the basis of indigeneity. Even if you accept the indigeneity argument, most Maori in Auckland came from areas outside of Auckland so are not mana whenua – they are taura here and have ancestral ties to other areas. This was probably why the Royal Commission recommended a better compromise: One appointed mana whenua representive, and two others elected from the Maori roll.

This also has problems, as the appointed mana whenua representative would not be elected; and the two elected members will also be elected in part by mana whenua, as well as other Maori who reside in Auckland.

All this has led Labour – who supports Maori seats, while having a bill in the ballot to remove Maori parliamentary seats - to criticise the Government for not appointing Maori seats, but giving unelected Maori voting rights. Providing appointed voting rights sounds less democratic – although more politically tenable - that the provision of democratically elected Maori seats. Act supports neither, and has said so. National is quietly happy as it has Act on side on the prevention of Maori seats (which the Maori Party opposed, but voted for), and the Maori Party on side on the issue of voting rights ( which Act opposed, but voted for).

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